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World War I, Golf and Golf Poetry

 

Robert Stanley Weir

 The First World War began 100 years ago this month. With this in mind, I would like to devote at least the next two Posts to links between the War, golf and golf poetry. Previously I published a Post called “Golf and the Great War” (http://bit.ly/1kZL9n2). These Posts will add more stories and information to the subject.

While doing research for my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, (now available on Amazon in Europe for lower prices 6.50 pounds, 7.82 Euros), I discovered a Canadian poet-golfer named Robert Stanley Weir, 1856-1926, who wrote an impressive war-related poem at the beginning of World War I. Let me quote from my book:

“Robert Stanley Weir, a Canadian, wrote a poem, “The Plains of Abraham,” published in the April 1915 issue of Golf Illustrated and Outdoor America. Weir, a Montreal judge, writer and poet, was most famous for writing in 1908 the first English lyrics to O Canada, Canada’s national anthem. Today’s official English lyrics to the anthem are based on Weir’s original version. A little digging also shows that Weir was a golfer and frequent contributor to Golf Illustrated. He wrote book reviews and several articles on swing mechanics. One titled “Braid or Vardon, Which?” focuses on the swings of these two champions and ends with the thought:

 ‘Whether we essay the mighty Vardonian sweep or Braid’s whip-like, corkscrew-like snap, let us beware of adopting one theory to the denial of any other possible one. It is a great satisfaction and advantage to be able to recognize and adopt both.’

 Clearly the Judge was a student of the game.

The title of Weir’s poem, “The Plains of Abraham,” refers to a plateau just outside the wall of Quebec City where a famous battle was fought between the British and French on September 13, 1759. The British won this pivotal battle; however, the British commander, General James Wolfe, was mortally wounded and died on the battle field. The French commander, Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, was also mortally wounded and died the next day. From 1874 to 1915, Cove Fields on the Plains of Abraham was the site of the Quebec Golf Club. This background is needed to understand the setting for the poem. The poem, written at the beginning of the First World War, is a strong and heartfelt statement against war.

The Plains of Abraham

Here, where so long ago the battle roared
Sore frighting Dawn when, trembling, she arose
And saw the precious blood of Wolfe out-poured
And France’s hero sinks to long repose.

The grass, they say, is greener for the red
That drenched these plains and hollows all about;
And those thrice fifty years or more have spread
Much peacefulness on glacis and redoubt. [defensive fortifications]

Yes, Mother Nature, grieving, hideth soon
All trace of battles, ravage, death and pain.
The birds began to sing that afternoon—
The dusty, trodden grass to rise again.

And many a year the Citadel’s gray walls
Have seen the quiet golfers at their play:
Passing old ramparts, rusted cannon-balls,
And sighting gunless ships the river way.

Thrilled with the peace of golf the players said:
“Those cruel wars can ne’er again have birth;
The living shall no longer mourn their dead
Untimely gathered to reluctant earth.”

“The tribes shall rest—nor nearer conflict come
Than when a friendly foursome play the game;
The roaring voice of Wrath is stricken dumb
O better brotherhood than battle-fame!”

But, hark, the roaring of unnumbered guns
By salt Atlantic breezes hither blown!
And bitter cries from countless weeping ones,
While Peace is wringing her cold hands alone!”

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The Playing Partner From Hell

From the USGA Digital Library

 

In 1923, The American Golfer, the golf magazine of its day, asked its readers to submit entries to answer the question “What Puts Me off My Game Most?” The April 7th issue included the responses of the three prize winners. The winner of the second prize wrote, in part,

“…I can play with the hare type and with the human tortoise…Sun nor wind nor clouds affect me, I enjoy them all. Nor does a bad hole depress me, for there are many such in my life and I should worry.

But delivery me, oh, delivery me from the fiend who coaches my each and every shot! He usually has about a twenty-four handicap. He has made every hole on the course in par, but never by any chance has he gotten two of them in the same round.

As I step up to drive it starts. My stance is wrong. I should waggle more; my backswing is too short. If I take my midiron for one hundred and twenty-five yards, I am patiently told that I should pitch up with a mashie….”

The second prize winner goes on a while longer, but you get the point.

The first prize winner complains about a similar critic that he calls “NEVER-WILLIE.” In his entry he includes these quotes:

“You never will get rid of that slice with your left toe turned out.”
“You never will hit them clean until you learn to keep your head down.”
“You never will be able to use a mashie as long as you keep dropping that right shoulder.”

At least it’s nice to know that the guy you played with last week that wouldn’t stop talking has a long history.

To immortalize this playing partner from hell, I wrote the following:

He Talks a Good Game

He talks a good game
You know the guy
He judges each swing
With a critical eye.
 

He talks a good game
Awash with advice
He’s off to the races
When he sees you slice.
 

He talks a good game
He studies the pros
He is eager to tell you
All that he knows.
 

He talks a good game
Can he turn a phrase
He talks a good game
But it’s not how he plays.
 

He talks and he talks
With eyeballs that glisten
But even the duffers
No longer listen.
 

Leon S White, PhD

audio

A hundred years ago, golf magazines of those days such as Golf, The American Golfer and Golf Illustrated all included golf instruction articles and tips. They also regularly included golf poems. Today’s golf magazines include golf instruction articles and tips, but no poetry. Reading through the February 2013 issue of Golf Digest I was impressed with the large number of tips. I thought that some might be better remembered if they were presented in the form of a poem. Here’s what I came up with. (I have also noted the tipper.)

Some Tips from the February Issue of Golf Digest Magazine

Magazine tips
from Jan to December
But when you need one
will you remember?

When your driving’s erratic,
and you’re feeling uptight
Will you infer
that you’re timing’s not right?  (From Louis Oosthuizen)

When you need to recover,
Remember what’s true:
“It’s not just the recovery,
but where it leaves you?”      (Tom Watson)

When all putts go left
Will you recall
That you must set your eyes
Inside the ball?

And a tip to remember
Right out of the gate,
Putt aggressively
When the line’s straight.  (The last two from Sean Foley)

With your fairway woods
As you reverse your pivot
Extend your arms,
And take a small divot.  (Todd Anderson)

When the flag is back
And you align
“Bag your wedge”
And run a little 9. (Jim McLean)

Poetry might help you
Remember these tips
And not in this Issue,
Check for worn grips.

And a last tip from me
When you’re playing the game
Fun and enjoyment
Is where you should aim.

Leon S White, PhD

In a number of previous Posts I have suggested that you will have more fun with these poems by reciting them. With that in mind I am starting something new with this Post. If you click below, you can hear me recite this poem! If you have a moment let me know what you think.

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Golf, War and Freddie Tate

In my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages I devoted part of a chapter to golf related poems connected with World War I.  Since writing the book, I discovered a poem about Frederick Tate, a Scottish amateur golfer who lost his life in the Second Boer War. Tate was killed in action on February 7, 1900 at the age of 30.

During his brief amateur career, Freddie Tate, as he was called, won two Amateur Championships (1896, 1898) and twice placed third in the Open Championship (1896, 1897). And during that career he won the hearts of Scotland’s golfing public. Bernard Darwin wrote in his Sketchbook,

“In his day and in his own Scotland he was a national hero. I do not think I have ever seen any other golfer so adored by the crowd─no, not Harry Vardon or Bobby Jones in their primes. It was a tremendous and, to his adversaries, an almost terrifying popularity.”

So  the tremendous outpouring of grief  was not surprising when news of his death reached Great Britain. Little more than two weeks after his death, the February 23, 1900 issue of Golf Illustrated included a long “Appreciation” by the magazine’s Editor and the following  poem. Many more tributes followed.

    LIEUTENANT F.G. TAIT

(Killed at Koodoosberg, February, 1900)

Another hero from the fair-haired North
Add to the roll of those the boding strains
Of War ‘twixt Boer and Briton summoned forth
To shed their life blood on dark Afric’s plains.

There’s Golf where’er on earth sounds English tongue,
And where’er golfers meet, at rest or play,
Where champion feats at Golf are told or sung,
The name of Freddy Tait will live for aye.

We read his death, with eye perforce grown dim
For comrade snatched before us from the strife;
We mourn our loss, but should we mourn for him?
Could death more glorious crown a fairer life?

He died “with sword in hand for England’s right;”
Aye, this he did, and dying left behind,
‘Mong those who to the end will see this fight,
No better golfer, and no nobler mind.

As we salute our Veterans today, and much a Europe remembers World War I, golfers around the world might also want to remember the most famous and heroic Scottish amateur golfer, Freddie Tate.

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president mckinley

When President Obama first took office, I wrote a Post, “When Travis Played the President,” about a golf match at the Chevy Chase Club course in Maryland between Walter J. Travis and President Taft. (See http://golfpoet.com/2009/02/09/when-travis-played-the-president/)

In his first term, President Obama has played his share of golf. During the re-election campaign he has been criticized for this practice. Here, for example, is a recent headline from CBSNews.com, “President Obama plays 100th round of golf, draws fire from critics.” But golfing Presidents are nothing new.  Nor is the criticism.

The exploits of golfing Presidents have been ably documented by ESPN Senior Writer Don Van Natta in his book  “First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters from Taft to Bush.” But what about Presidents who may have tried golf before Taft? As Van Natta points out, in 1897 during his summer vacation President McKinley was persuaded  by his Vice President Garrett Hobart to play a few rounds. But McKinley  had no success.  Van Natta goes on with the story, writing,

“Two years later . . . McKinley surprised his aides when he announced that he would like to take up golf again.  . . . But his senior advisers were very concerned, telling McKinley that golf was “undignified for a President . . .”

In today’s world, if a reporter caught wind of such a story, s/he might have had some fun with it in a few paragraphs. But in McKinley’s time when poetry was popular, here is what I found in the July 7, 1899 issue of Golf Illustrated, an English weekly publication:

“President McKinley is only deterred from taking to Golf by fears that by so doing he might compromise the dignity of the Presidential Office. The Evening News’ poet soliloquises as follows:

‘What degradation may there be,
What loss of manly dignity,
In boldly driving off the tee?
Or is it that, perhaps, you know
Your limbs, I mean the ones below
In heather stocking clad, would show
But thinly,
McKinley?’”

Maybe President Obama is lucky that there seems to be no interest in poetry among his Republican detractors.

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A Golf Poem by Herbert Warren Wind!

Herbert Warren Wind, golf writer

After the U.S. Open Championship ends as it did so dramatically last Sunday, you might look forward to what the pundits on the Golf Channel or in the newspapers, golf magazines and blogs have to say.  Years ago, if you followed golf faithfully, you waited patiently for Herbert Warren Wind’s New Yorker article. And you were never disappointed. Wind, who graduated from Yale University, and earned a Master’s degree in English Literature from the University of Cambridge, began writing for the New Yorker in 1941. He covered the major golf tournaments for the magazine from 1960 to 1990 when he retired, a period when television coverage was for the most part still limited.

Wind often wrote in the first person and his reports always described the scenes he witnessed most vividly. For example, writing about the 1956 Open at the Olympic Club, at a point soon after television coverage had ended by proclaiming Hogan champion,

            “In the clubhouse—how sharp the picture remains!—Hogan sat slumped before his locker, patiently answering the questions of the press but sidestepping all congratulations with the reminder that his victory was not yet official, since some players were still out on the course.”

Later in the same paragraph,

“The news that filtered in was not hard and exact, but [Jack] Fleck was reported to have parred the thirteenth and bogeyed the fourteenth. Now, to tie he would have to birdie two of the last four holes. It was at about that time that I decided to get out on the course again.”

Catching up with Fleck on the par-3 fifteenth hole, Wind continued,

“As I was trying to find elbowroom in the crowd, a galvanic shout went up. Fleck, a frenzied man informed me, had holed from 9 feet for a 2. Now all he had to do was birdie one of the last three holes—not that this would be easy.”

With Wind’s retirement golf writing took a hit from which it may never recover.

As far as I knew, Wind confined himself to prose, so I was surprised to learn (from Bill Scheft, a Wind nephew) that Wind’s first contribution to the New Yorker was a poem. With Scheft’s help I found the poem on the last page of Herbert Warren Wind’s Golf Book. I offer it more as an historical artifact than great poetry. Wind’s prose will more than suffice.

Upbringing

The elevator man’s son counts:
1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,14 and so on.
And sometimes mezzanine.

The porter’s son counts by fives:
5,10,15, and carry one, 15,20,25, and carry two. Or
By tens should speed require.

The agent’s son counts by fractions:
1-1/10, 2-1/10, 3-1/10, and so on.
He does it in his bean.

The golfer’s son counts:
1,2,3,fore,5,6,7. And balks
At counting any higher.

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Golf Poetry – Who Wrote it; Who Reads It (Part 2)

In 1886 David Jackson, the Captain of the Thistle Golf Club in Scotland, published a 32 page tract of poems and songs at the “repeated request of many members of my own and other Clubs.” Earlier in 1833, George Fullerton Carnegie privately published a long poem called “The Golfiad” which he dedicated the “Members of all Golfing Clubs, and to those of St. Andrews and North Berwick in particular.” They were his readers.

In the first 30 years or so of the 20th century, the audience for golf poetry expanded. The poetry appeared in golf magazines in both the United Kingdom and the United States and in a few newspapers as well.  A number of (real) books of golf poetry were also published But after about 1930, golf poetry lost its place as a part of the literature of golf and all but disappeared. As Grantland Rice saw it, “…good poets suddenly disappeared and readers for some reason lost the old poetic zest.” It may also be that movies, radio and other sources of entertainment began to attract audiences away from poetry in general.

Today poets struggles to attract an audience and golf poetry has few serious adherents. But we can, with the help of the internet, libraries and the digital reprinting of out-of-print books, rediscover the golf poetry of the past, which is what I have attempted to do with this Blog and my book Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages. And happily a number of readers have responded.

With the help of WordPress.com, my Blog host, I can tell you that golf poetry today enjoys a wider audience than ever before. Poetry on this Blog has been read (and hopefully enjoyed) by readers in more than 70 countries. Leading the list are the countries most associated with golf’s history, the United States (54% of the page views), the United Kingdom (21%), Canada (6%) and Australia (3.3%). But all of the continents have contributed viewers and the Blog has even had four page views from Iceland and two from Belarus! Page views in total for the three plus years of this Blog have passed 67,000.

Reading and even more so, reciting golf poetry is a new experience for most of today’s golfers. So, if it’s new for you, why not begin by reciting the last four lines from one of David Jackson’s poems, “Gouff Dings A’” loosely translated as “Golf Surpasses All,”

Then, let us swell the mighty throng of Princes, Lords, and Kings
Who have enjoyed the game of Golf above all other things
And wish success to every one, let him be great or sma’,
Who loves the jolly game o’ Gouff–for Gouff dings a’. 

 And sometimes poetry dings prose.

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Verses for Bubba, The Master’s Champion

A lot has been written about the new Master’s champion, Bubba Watson, since he put on his first green jacket. But unlike, a hundred years ago, it’s all prose and no poetry. So I’ve turned back the clock with a few verses to celebrate his well deserved and colorful victory.

Bubba’s Way 

Bubba doesn’t mind confessin’
He’s got this far without a lesson
But what’s the lesson in the tale
To the top, more than one trail.

Bubba’s Swing

Bubba’s swing is nice an’ breezy
Makes his monster shots look easy
But with that driver you’re tempted to think
They’ve got to go longer because it’s pink.

Bubba’s Shot 

About BW let’s be candid
Fortunate that he’s left handed
If he had hit a slice instead
“Our usual shot,” all we’d have said.

Bubba’s Game

Hit it and find it, that’s his game
To walk that far you’d have to train
And with his flat stick he might sink
Every putt…were it too pink!

Leon S White (golfpoet)

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Golf Poetry – Who Wrote it; Who Reads It (Part 1)

April is Poetry Month, so why not a Post focusing of some of what I’ve learned about golf poetry.

In doing research for my book, Golf Course of Rhymes – Links between Golf and Poetry Through the Ages, I found that the earliest poem known to include a reference to golf was called “The Muses Threnodie” by Henry Adamson, published in Edinburgh in 1638. Some have argued that Shakespeare preceded Adamson. For example, here is King Lear on pressing: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.” But, I think we’ll stick with Adamson.

Possibly the first poem devoted entirely to golf was found in a 1687 diary entry of an Edinburgh medical student, Thomas Kincaid. In 12 lines, Kincaid establishes himself as golf’s first swing instructor. The poem begins,

Grip fast stand with your left leg first not farr
Incline your back and shoulders but beware
You raise them not when back the club you bring

The complete poem is included in my book. I found it in a wonderful reference book on early golf history called A Swing Through Time by Olive M. Geddes, a Senior Curator in the National Library of Scotland. The “triumvirate” of early golf poems is completed with The Goff,” a 358-line mock-heroic poem written by an Thomas Mathison and published in book form first in Edinburgh in 1743. The Goff is thought to be the first book entirely devoted to golf.

As golf developed in Scotland and then in England, golf poetry developed as well. One of great golf poets of the first half of the 19th century was George Fullerton Carnegie, a member of St. Andrews. His poetry is included in a book edited by Robert Clark called Golf: A Royal & Ancient Game. One of Carnegie’s poems, “Address to St. Andrews” begins,

St. Andrews! They say that thy glories are gone,
That thy streets are deserted, thy castles o’erthrown;
 If they glories be gone, they are only, methinks,
As it were, by enchantment, transferr’d to thy Links.

In 1886, David Jackson, Captain of the Thistle Golf Club, Scotland, published a 32 page pamphlet/book called Golf – Songs & Recitations. You can search this Blog for three Posts that include poems that Jackson wrote. A few years earlier in 1873, Thomas Marsh, described as the poet-laureate of the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in London, privately published a small book called Blackheath Golfing Lays. A rare 1st edition copy recently sold for $8400.

In my opinion, one of the best golf poets of the 19th-early 20th century, was the Scottish writer, poet and drama critic, Robert K. Risk. In 1919 he published a book of 36 golf poems called Songs of the Links with illustrations by H.M. Bateman, a famous British cartoonist. I was fortunate to win a copy of Risk’s book at auction three years ago. Risk was a golfer, as were virtually all of the golf poets of this time  Only a golfer, Risk in this case, could write lines such as these,

Here, with an open course from Tee To Tee,
 A Partner not too dexterous – like Thee—
Beside me swiping o’er Elysian Fields,
And Life is wholly good enough for Me.

Other British golfer-poets of Risk’s time included Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling (born in India), Andrew Lang, better known for his children’s fairy tale books, Robert H. K. Browning (not that Browning) and John Thomson who wrote a wonderful short book called A Golfing Idyll under the pseudonym “Violet Flint.” The book, subtitled The Skipper’s Round with the Deil (Devil) On the Links of St. Andrews, was first published privately in 1892.

In my research I discovered one golf poet of the time, Harry Vardon, who may have borrowed the verse he offered to an auction during World War One. This story can be found in an earlier Post and also in my book.

Golf poetry was also being written in the United State and Canada during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of the best American golf poets was Grantland Rice, the first dean of American sports writing. Rice wrote hundreds of poems about many sports, wrote prose and poetry for a number of New York City papers and was editor an early golf magazine, American Golfer, in the 1920’s. Among the many golf poems Rice wrote, here is one of his shortest:

The bloke who lifts his well known dome
Will let it hang when he starts home.
And he who finds missed puts are rife
Is no companion for a wife.

Other American golfer-poets, contemporaries of Rice, include Charles “Chick” Evans, Jr., the great amateur player, Tom Bendelow, an important early American golf architect, who wrote a parody of “Casey at the Bat” called “Hoo Andra Foozled Oot,” Ring Lardner, one of American’s best short story writers, the Chicago Tribune columnist Bert Leston Taylor, and a New York lawyer, Norman Levy.

I also discovered three Canadian poets: Edward Atherton, who wrote a song called “Far and Sure” in 1901; W. Hastings Webling; and a Montreal judge, writer and poet, Robert Stanley Weir, who was most famous for writing in 1908 the first English lyrics to O Canada, Canada’s national anthem.

Outside of Scotland, England, the United States and Canada, I have found only one golf poet. His name was Barton “Banjo” Paterson from Australia. The poem he wrote is called “The Wreak of the Golfer” but he was much more famous for writing “Waltzing Matilda.”

If you know of any golf poetry by poets from other countries, for example, Ireland, India or France, please leave a comment with the reference or poem. And to read poems by most of the poets mentioned above, please consult my book.

Note: Part 2, focuses on the question: who reads golf poetry?

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The Haskell-Gutty Controversy in Verse

“The Haskellisation of Golf” is the title of an article by the famous English amateur golfer and writer, Horace G. Hutchinson, that appeared in the October 17, 1902 issue of Golf Illustrated, a weekly golf magazine. Hutchinson discusses the question of whether the gutty ball should be replaced by the recently invented Haskell ball. For background see a previous Blog entry, Haskell on the Brain, http://golfpoet.com/2010/07/05/haskell-on-the-brain/.

At the same time, Hutchinson wrote his piece, a poet with the initials F.J.K. wrote a poem to the editor (they did such things 100 or so years ago) in which he versified on the pros and cons of switching to the new balls.

THE NEW BALLS                                                                                            

To the Editor of Golf Illustrated

Dear Sir,

Two of the questions of the day,
We read, in circles polished,
Are whether women ought to work,
Or kissing be abolished?

But though these interesting queries
Might be discussed for ages,
They pale and pall before the one
Appearing in your pages.

The merits of the rubber-filled
American invention
From golfers one and all demand
Their very best attention:

And week by week your paper has
An interesting series
Of answers published in response
To these important queries:

Whether, in driving from the tee,
The golfer finds his task ʾll
Be simpler if he once employs
A Kempshall or a Haskell?

And if he finds that owing to
These aids so adventitious
His skill improves all around, or fate
Is, as before, capricious.

And does the new ball benefit
Our mediocre players,
And help them to attain the art
Of Braid, or Herd, or Sayers?

And if, supposing this is true,
Another finds it hard on
His excellence, a player like
Taylor or a Vardon?

And further with what liveliness
This substitute for gutta
Behaves when struck with iron clubs,
Or aluminium putter?

And yet, again, if general use
Will spoil our English courses,
And whether, this being so, there are
Remedial resources?

These questions of the day,
Vìde GOLF ILLUSTRATED
(With which, cf. the title page,
“Golf” is incorporated.

And there one finds set forth, in turn,
Assertion and denial
Of faults and merits in the ball
By those who’ve given it trial.

One hears that certain clubs demand
Restrictive legislation,
To save the gutty from the Trans-
Atlantic innovation.

Now I, unmasked, advise each man
To try, in strict seclusion,
This full-of-rubber novelty,
And draw his own conclusion.

About the distance of his drive
He’ll wax enthusiastic,
But later on he’ll wish his ball
Was rather less elastic.

About the cost he may well feel
Supremely apprehensive,
Seeing that every ball is so
Atrociously expensive.

So, if he thinks with me, he will
Abide no rubber filling,
But use an English ball, for which
He’ll pay an English shilling!

F.J.K.

Of course, issues surrounding the capabilities of golf balls continue. Recently John Solheim, Chairman and CEO of Ping, suggested that instead of a single Ball Distance Rating (BDR) limit (how far a ball can go) there should be three. In addition to the current BDR, there would one shorter and one longer. (See  Golf Digest article) Then we would have to endure ads for the longest short ball, the longest long ball, etc. I’d rather go back to the Haskell!

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